‘Mangrove’ Showcases A Masterclass In Both Directing And Performances – Review
The first film in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology series, Mangrove is a brilliantly crafted look into the lives of the British-Caribbean community in the late 60s and early 70s. In Mangrove, it is made very clear that when doing anything while being Black always be aware that the police will come into your home, or into your business, or randomly attack you on the streets of London just because they feel like it. If this sounds familiar to you, then you would be quite right. While 1970 was not long ago, the effects of systemic racism are still felt all over the globe and upon watching Mangrove, it is infuriating to see how little has changed.
Notting Hill’s Mangrove restaurant is one that is a staple in the British-Caribbean community and is one of the liveliest spots for various locals and lovers of the fantastic food that Frank Crichlow’s (Shaun Parkes) restaurant serves. People from every walk of life find themselves calling the Mangrove a home away from home and Frank prides himself on the kinship that is fostered in his restaurant. However, the restaurant becomes a target of rampant racism at the hands of the police. The Mangrove is unlawfully raided by the police force time and time again, leading to locals taking to the streets in peaceful demonstration.
When the police clash with the peaceful protestors, nine men and woman including Frank, leader of the British Black Panther movement, Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright), activist Barbara Beese (Rochenda Sandall) and activist Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby), are wrongfully arrested and charged with incitement to riot. Dubbed the Mangrove 9, a highly publicized trial begins and the group does all that they can to ensure a win over discrimination and injustice.
Just as McQueen is a force to be reckoned with behind the camera, his cast brings the same amount of genius in front of it. Parkes as Frank Crichlow is truly a sight to behold. He commands the audience’s attention from the very first moment he enters the frame and continues to do so throughout the film as the restaurant-owner and activist who simply wants what is best for his community. Putting forth a powerful performance of her own, Wright shines as Jones-LeCointe. Similar to Parkes, Wright’s turn as Jones-LeCointe is impactful and emotionally stirring. Watching the pair interact with one another and the rest of the cast on-screen was truly a joy.
Mangrove certainly sets a high bar for the rest of McQueen’s Small Axe anthology series (which I am certain will be just as stunning and I cannot wait to watch each). Simply put, Mangrove is one of the best films to be released this year. Mangrove tells an essential and poignant tale that everyone should familiarize themselves with, and I am glad that McQueen brought this story to a broader audience. Showcasing a masterclass in both directing and cast performances, Mangrove is certainly a film that should be on everyone’s watchlists right now.